Tired of vending machine food!
August 25, 2008 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I've read all the food questions. I have a new one. I need portable foods that don't need refrigeration or heating that can keep me alert and satisfied for 12ish hours.

I'm a full time student that packs all five classes into two days. My first class is Oceanography at 9am and my last class (Cultural Ecology) ends at 9pm. My four "breaks" that have me scurry across campus are 15 minutes (one is actually only 10).

The drive to school takes about 40 minutes. I could take a shuttle, but books for 5 classes may prohibit that some days, and it adds an hour to each end of my commute.

Of course, there is another constraint. I have a ridiculously fast metabolism. So bonus points for foods that pack in the calories, but don't weigh a thousand tons (see the aforementioned book hauling).

I might be able to get a locker to switch books at "mid-day," and could theoretically store some things there, but keep in mind this is for Florida. I cannot store peanut butter and bread in a locker. It would be gone overnight with the ants.

To give you an idea of the kinds of things I might be looking for (but getting bored with) here's what I'm bringing tomorrow for the first day, in roughly the order I expect to eat things. (Before I leave the house I'll have a granola and yogurt combo, when I get home I will not feel like heating anything.) I carry all of this in a super sophisticated plastic Publix grocery store bag. I will not be investing in any kind of cooler/laptop lunchbox/Mr Bento, but I'm not afraid of food poisoning.

11am sandwich - boring lunch meat/cheese. I'm ok with that, I can hold this and eat while I walk. Loved a previous AskMe topic for fun sandwiches, will move in that direction eventually. I do not need any more sandwich suggestions.
145pm Cold Quesadilla (beans and sweet potatoes with a little cheese and spinach)
230ish Cheese manicotti. I might be sneaking out of a lecture to deal with this one. I eat my left over pasta at room temp.
5pm Bean salad
615 2 boiled eggs with no yolks. (I'm not afraid this is going to kill me)
630 Peanut butter and pretzels
Trail mix

Further - I don't need suggestions for drinks and I have never found a protein/meal replacer bar that I like. Please do not suggest that I try any more protein bars. They make me gag, and I will not pay $1 to feel like I need to puke. Also, I have lots of intestinal fortitude. I am not worried that I am going to poison myself, and I'm not picky about eating cold things cold and hot things hot. I will not be buying a thermos because they are HEAVY. So, sad as it makes me, no soups.
posted by bilabial to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Adding: Fruit will be included in there. Cherries tomorrow.

Also, I cook at home, happily. Because I'm on a tight budget I'd prefer not to go in for too much packaged stuff, but can surely buy those boxes of single serve chips and stuff...
posted by bilabial at 8:57 AM on August 25, 2008

Ants will not eat your sandwiches if you store them in Tupperware. If Tupperware is too heavy or bulky, ants will not find you sandwich if you store it in a high quality (name brand) zip-loc bag. Red beans and rice? Super yummy, good even if you eat it cold (ditto for pizza), and you can store it in a plastic bag, or even better, a Tupperware bowl.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:24 AM on August 25, 2008

I've done similar things, and come up with a few standbys. In short: go light on carbs and heavy on meat/protein. Carbs are really light. Chips etc. can be tasty, but one bag of chips is only 200-300 calories, whereas the same volume of something denser could have several times that. The same weight in pasta and chicken will not only take up a lot more space but be less filling and have less calories in it.

I get a lot of mileage out of nuts, particularly almonds. These are light, and ridiculously calorically dense: one cup of almonds, my personal favorite, is over 800 calories and only weighs about 5 ounces. An added bonus is that you can eat these just about wherever, and they don't produce any waste if you get 'em shelled. A 2 pound tub of almonds is $10 at Target. Cashews, etc. are similarly priced and just as effective if you're looking for that.

Also: tuna/chicken/seafood/whatever salad. I bake half a dozen or so chicken breasts on Saturday/Sunday and make a few of them into chicken salad which I stick in disposable plastic containers. You can obviously do tuna, and I've found that salmon salad is actually really tasty while not being that much more expensive than a can of tuna. You can put this on a sandwich if you want, but I usually forgo the bread to save on space and calories. As you're apparently trying to max out calories, just put in more meat in the same space.

Meat salads don't have to be boring old mayo 'n meat either. I stick dried cranberries, canned mushrooms, crushed almonds, celery, and all manner of spices/seasonings in mine. If you've access to a Hispanic market, Kraft makes this awesome mayo with lime juice, but you can probably fake that if you can't buy it directly. If you want, you can also cut it with rice, though again, rice can't hold a candle to meat for caloric density.

I also eat a lot of pepperoni slices. Tasty, small, stick 'em in a little baggie. Doesn't have to be terribly expensive, no more than $5/week if you don't go completely crazy. You can also get sausage bits/beef sticks, which can be good.

As far as fruit, check out nashi, aka Asian pears. They're a little bigger than most apples (up to half a pound each), but fantastically juicy and crisp. I got them for $1.50/pound this summer, but they can be more expensive elsewhere.

A word: meat is generally kind of expensive, but I think you'll find that you wind up eating less of it and being less hungry overall.
posted by valkyryn at 9:26 AM on August 25, 2008

Fiber. moisture, and protein are key factors in snack foods that make me feel full. Replace any white bread, etc. with whole grains. Whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta.

Kashi brand chewy or crunchy bars are good. They are not meal replacer bars, just regular snack bars made with granola. My boyfriend loves the chocolate cherry ones and I can't buy them fast enough.
Carrot and celery sticks.
Any sorts of berries (strawberries, blueberries, etc.) in Fage brand Greek yogurt. This won't go bad if you leave it out for a few hours. The protein in the yogurt helps with feeling full and it takes longer to digest than plain fruit. You'll need to bring a plastic spoon with you, though.
Apples with spreadable cheese wedges by Laughing Cow. Helps to have a small plastic knife for this one.
Babybel individual cheese wheels, also by Laughing Cow.
Almonds. Be aware of sodium content, however.
I don't see any beef jerky or similar products on your list.

I know you didn't want drink suggestions, but overall, are you drinking enough water? It helps with the feeling of fullness.
posted by kathryn at 9:27 AM on August 25, 2008

Also: consider something like bacon and eggs for breakfast. Something heavy in your gut will probably keep you satisfied into the afternoon. Yeah, it takes a few extra minutes in the morning, but you can actually do both in the microwave if you're careful, or you can just boil a bunch of eggs ahead of time.

I wouldn't skip the egg yolks either. Two thirds of an egg's calories are in the yolk, as are most of the other nutrients. Sure, there's fat in there, but if you're looking to be full, you gotta eat your yolks.
posted by valkyryn at 9:31 AM on August 25, 2008

In a situation like this, I pack some frozen vegetarian "chicken nuggets" or mini "corn dogs" into a plastic baggie. By lunch or dinner, they've defrosted. Morningstar makes them, I don't know about other brands. You don't seem to be a vegetarian, but you still might want to try them if the cost isn't prohibitive- my entirely non-vegetarian family often eats them up before I can get at them. Plus they're made with soy, so that should give you a good amount of protein.

If you don't mind the taste of tofu, that makes a good, long-lasting food as well. I like to cut a block into fairly thin slices, swish them in egg, roll them in panko (breadcrumbs, makes them nice and crunchy) and fry them in olive oil. That's another snack/meal that can be eaten on the go and should last a while. YMMV though, 'cause I live rather further north.
posted by Baethan at 9:32 AM on August 25, 2008

Some that work for me:

- I second the chicken/etc. salad. My favorite combo is chicken with cherries (fresh or dried) and walnuts (broken into smaller pieces), and enough mayo to hold it together. You get a good bit of fruit, and extra protein from the walnuts.

- I do variations on the 'pastry around filling' idea. One easy one is to use one of the 'croissant in a can' dough, and fill with your filling of choice. A traditional one is carrots/turnips/parsnips in whatever proportion you like (plus a little caramelised onion), but I also like chicken with sweet onion, raisins, and a little cinnamon or nutmeg (this one's based off a medieval recipe.)

You probably do want a cold pack with them, or eat them earlier in the day, but they freeze well, and don't need to be warm. You can also eat them with one hand.

On the Italian side, you can make calzone that will eat well cold, and make them in whatever size suits. Spinach and feta cheese is good cold.

- Onigiri - the Japanese rice formed into a tight ball, with something in the center. I adore cream cheese in the middle of mine (sometimes with some other kind of flavoring, like a little wasabi powder or some herb or spice), but tuna fish, avocado, or pickled fruit all work.

They're pretty easy to make (if you can make rice, you can make these), and there's a number of instructional sites online.

- Make your own trail mix, if you have access to a bulk foods section (our local mainstream supermarkets have them now, but co-ops, etc. also do.) Put together whatever combo of dried fruit/nuts/maybe some chocolate chips that you like, and snack at will.

- Friends got me hooked on a stovetop popcorn popper. With one of these, you could pop some the night before as a snack, and stick the rest in a large baggie for a snack during your day. I do mine in a tiny bit (like a teaspoon) of olive oil for a batch, and then season however I feel like.

- This summer, I've been doing a lot of pita bread and something to dip it in (yogurt and cucumbers, hummus, etc.) but these take a bit more planning and can't be eaten as easily on the run.

Finally, I'd also look at having something warm for you at home. (If you have a microwave, reheatable soup, if you don't, consider a crockpot or whatever.) When I was working full time and in grad school last year (with evening classes), I often came home and just wanted something that was actually warm and soothing. It didn't need to be a lot of food, but having something I could just reheat while I put things away helped a lot.
posted by modernhypatia at 9:54 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think this is slightly different from the sandwich suggestions (if not, ignore!).

How about things like sausage/pepperoni bread or variations on this recipe for "sandwich surprise"? Super-portable, you can make a bunch of loaves at once and freeze them and defrost them as you need them, and they are fine at room-temperature.
posted by stefnet at 10:04 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know you said that you're not interested in buying a bento box, but I think you should look at some bento blogs, particularly lunch in a box. Many bentos in Japan are kept without refrigeration, and you'll find lots of tips for food safety that aren't finicky or weird, but rather smart--like packing frozen items that will help keep other things in your lunch cool, but will still thaw throughout the day. My favorite example of this is frozen spaghetti which is surprisingly Not Gross. Also, bentos are packed to be maximally filling, unlike American lunches. Gaps are minimized, and calorically dense foods are used in certain ratios (3 parts grains, 2 parts veggies, 1 part protein) in order to maximize the energy you'll get out of the food. Also, you'll learn all sorts of handy tips, like that the saltier the food used, the hungrier you'll be, sooner. And you definitely don't need a fancy box covered with cute animals to do this stuff--plain tupperware works just fine.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:26 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

You probably would like to go with a tiffin It's the next big thing to hit the West, putting lunch boxes everywhere to shame, for sheer flatness. This is a meal in 3D and you will be very happy with the results.
posted by watercarrier at 3:04 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Jerky - you can make this yourself if you like - stores and carries well and will keep you full a long time.

Smoothies you make yourself as long as you add protein like nut butter, dairy, egg or even cubes of cooked meat. Puverised eggs or cubes of steak can look a bit funny but will make a very satisfying snack that fills you for a long time.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:11 PM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: Check this out - Alton Brown's Protein Bar recipe. I agree that most commercial ones taste like fungal cardboard, but these are actually pretty good, cheaper than buying prepacked ones form a a store, and better for you. The granola bar recipe under that is pretty good too.
posted by pupdog at 5:02 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cheese. All kinds of cheese.
posted by QIbHom at 9:16 AM on August 26, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all. I've marked a few best answers so far, but feel free to add more!
posted by bilabial at 9:20 AM on August 26, 2008

Easy calzones can be made by buying prepared pizza dough (or making it yourself; it's fairly simple) and dividing it into tennis-ball-size servings. Flatten the dough and add whatever filling you want: refrigerator leftovers, sausage, cooked chopped meat, spinach, chopped-hard-boiled egg, tomato sauce, cheese, cold cuts, boiled potatoes, chopped cooked vegetables. Fold over into a half circle, crimp the edges and bake at 350F until brown. Travels well and is not messy to eat.
posted by lipstick bookworm at 4:29 PM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

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